Civil Resistance in the East European and Soviet Revolutions
Einstein Institution Monograph Series #4
by Adam Roberts
Title: Civil Resistance in the East European and Soviet Revolutions
Author: Adam Roberts
Published: 1991, 1999
Languages available: English
Price: $4.00 (Out of print)
The death knell of communist rule, which has now ended in all European countries, was sounded not by nuclear weapons, nor even for the most part by the use of military force, but by civil resistance. In the last quarter of 1989, "people power" in various forms—generally nonviolent in character—played a significant part in undermining communist regimes in several central and eastern European countries; in 1990–91 it played a major role in the campaigns in the Baltic states to assert their independence from the Soviet Union; and in August 1991 it was a key factor in the defeat of the attempted putsch in the Soviet Union, thus contributing decisively to the undermining of communist power there as well. The events in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989–91 had remarkable similarities. There were crowds in the streets demonstrating, almost always with restraint, sometimes with wit and humor; nervous communist regimes which showed themselves incapable of rallying serious public support; attempts to create transitional regimes which failed to satisfy the public's demand for change; and, sooner or later, either an open transfer of power, or at least a public admission that there had to be an abandonment of the existing one-party system. Constitutional guarantees of the primacy of ruling communist parties were abolished. If violence was used, it was typically by the security forces, as in Prague on November 17, 1989, at Timisoara in Romania a month later, and in the Soviet Union in August 1991: such episodes generally made things worse for their perpetrators. The whole chain of events in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union could be seen as a triumph of civil resistance, validating the proposition that all government, even totalitarian government, is based on the consent and cooperation of the ruled: take that away, and the regime must collapse.
Although in most of these cases the popular action was overwhelmingly nonviolent, this was not universally so. There was violence on both sides in Romania in 1989–90; in several republics of the Soviet Union since at least 1989; and in Yugoslavia in 1991, where the much-feared specter of civil war reappeared with a vengeance. Against this somber background it is difficult to assert that there is a general trend towards nonviolent means of political struggle. What can be asserted is that nonviolent methods have a greater importance than has been allowed for in many philosophies, whether of Left or of Right. Clearly, the changes in the communist world in 1989–91 have been something more than a simple process of political change within states: they have also transformed international relations. Reports of the end of history, and claims that there is a new world order, are premature. However, the end of the Warsaw Pact, of the Soviet empire, of Soviet totalitarianism, and indeed of the Soviet Union itself, are undeniably major events. So is the unification of Germany, achieved on October 3, 1990; and the advent of three former republics of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to membership in the United Nations in September 1991. In November 1989, as the pace of change in eastern Europe was gaining momentum, Zbigniew Brzezinski was asked "Are there historical events to which you can liken this in significance?" He replied: "The only thing that comes close to it is the defeat of Nazism in World War II. That defeat was by force of arms. This defeat was by force of ideas and political resistance."
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